Linux Foundation's certification sets new benchmark for admins

Do open source projects need formal certification? Two notable open source foundations think they do

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Back in 2012, TDF launched a certification scheme for LibreOffice migration professionals. Italo Vignoli, one of the founders of TDF, was its architect, as well as a LinuxCon attendee, and he was happy to discuss the topic with me. I asked him whether there were similarities between the TDF approach and the Linux Foundation approach:

The certification program announced by the Linux Foundation is very similar to the one announced by The Document Foundation in 2011. ... Both [Foundations] have designed their certification programs with the community members in mind, to provide a professional recognition to people active -- at different levels and in different ways -- in their respective ecosystems.

Both programs are anchored in the concept of endorsing community-recognized skills, so those outside the community can share the trust of the community in a given technical expert. How do they differ? Vignoli told me:

The exams are different: LF Certification tests technical skills during a two-hour-long process, where the candidate is reviewed live by a single proctor, while TDF Certification is based on a three step peer-to-peer review in front of a three-person review committee.

The difference is mostly based on the fact that testing technical skills is probably easier -- and more objective -- than reviewing "soft" skills such as those related to developing and coordinating a migration project or creating and managing a training course.

Where certs fit -- and where they don't

Should more projects have certification, or are these two special cases? Vignoli thinks certification should become a part of every large open source community. I am less certain of this, as I explained last year. If certification schemes are devised, there are three criteria I consider important:

  1. College-level education in collaborative and people skills, which are required to excel in open source, should be mandatory. Students are frequently taught and assessed in isolation from each other and from engagement with real-world software; in fact, the focus on the individual often penalizes collaboration. We need to develop approaches that improve collaborative skills as a key part of computer science education.
  2. Granular certification of the reputation and the good standing of community members should be performed by communities rather than disengaged entities. This was the tradition in earlier times with professional associations like IEEE and ACM. The TDF approach is stronger here, although the Linux Foundation approach has merit.
  3. National/regional/international certification creates a serious risk of chilling innovation if it gets backed up by regulation requiring certification. That should be strictly bounded and limited only to critical applications. Ideally, it should be achieved by the certification of systems by expert auditors -- who may be an appropriate target for regulatory certification.

Skills in demand

Both certification schemes are having an impact, with TDF's certification as a mark of community recognition for those seeking LibreOffice professionals to support migration and deployment of the office suite. Indeed, I've seen some recruitment activities that already specify TDF certification as a prerequisite. Meanwhile, the Linux Foundation offering is proving popular, having now sold out its $50 introductory offer on certifications.

I think the approach taken by these two foundations is an important development. Open source projects depend on the reputation of the participants in the community, but it's hard for employers to validate the current reputation of individuals. These two certification programs make the community recognition of individuals tangible outside the community and offer a concrete parameter for hiring decisions.

If you're deploying open source software, it's vital you pay for the skills to keep your mission-critical systems in good health. You need to either retain a supplier with community-recognized (preferably committer) skills for that software, or hire staff who can act with the community for you. Community-based certifications are welcome new tool for open source deployment success.

This article, "Linux Foundation's certification sets new benchmark for admins," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of the Open Sources blog and follow the latest developments in open source at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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